How I’ve Experienced Group Therapy
I’m not great at group therapy. I’ve tried, but I never managed to get anything from it.
It may be familial. My father had a particularly vicious cancer, multiple myeloma, which he survived for a dozen years, a lot longer than the doctors thought he would back then.
The hospital where he was diagnosed and treated offered support groups for cancer patients. I remember one called “Make Today Count” (which I think implies a certain recognition of mortality that’s not really encouraging – but I’ve never faced it myself).
My father refused to go. Adamantly. Of course, the choice was up to him, but he chose not to get involved and made no apology for it. It wasn’t that he couldn’t accept help. He just relied on family and friends for it – people he knew and had a connection with. I’m sure that support helped him to survive as long as he did, and I can see how a group of strangers, even if they had the same or similar conditions, wouldn’t appeal to his independent streak. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a positive mental attitude, either. No one could have been more determined that he was going to persevere for as long as possible. No one could have been more confident that he would prevail. And no one could have kept doing the things he loved for as long as possible.
I have had experiences with group therapy, but they have not been successful. When I was in college and experiencing a depressive phase, I went to a group offered by the university’s health services. I was skeptical at first. One woman’s problem was that she didn’t know whether she should marry a rich guy or a poor guy who had both proposed to her. (I’m not denying that she was conflicted, but I wondered how much a mental health group could help. Maybe individual therapy could have helped her clarify her thinking, but then again, I just don’t know.)
The other thing I remember was that once the group facilitator issued us a challenge – which of us could role-play meeting another person and holding a conversation with them. My hand went up, and I performed the task easily. I had reached the point where I could fake my way through simple social encounters, so it wasn’t all that difficult. The facilitator looked impressed and slightly disbelieving. It was something I already knew how to do, so it didn’t actually help me with my problems. I don’t know if it helped anyone else either.
Another time, when I was out of college and in private therapy, my therapist was going on vacation and recommended a group I could go to while she was away. They took us through a relatively simple exercise – making a drawing of our life journey. As I recall, we used only symbols, no words.
When I finished, I burst out crying uncontrollably and didn’t know why. I don’t remember anyone there helping me process what I was feeling. Maybe I expected too much from a therapy group. Maybe they weren’t equipped to handle a meltdown. But it was a thoroughly upsetting and unhelpful experience, and I didn’t go back.
Another group I attended a few times struck me as a bit peculiar. The participants each related a difficult situation they had been in and the symptoms they experienced, then told how they would have handled it previously and how they handled it now. There were lots of quotes from a book they all carried like a bible. There was no discussion – just the facts and the quotes. (Once I offered someone a piece of gum or a mint and they pointed to me, chuckled, and said, “Dry mouth!”) Again, I didn’t find it really helpful.
At this point, I’ve pretty much given up on therapy groups. Perhaps, like my father, I am simply not a group person. I know there are those who will say that I simply haven’t found the right group. They may be right, but I have stopped looking.
There are lots of mental health groups – not therapy groups, of course – on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet. I’ve become the moderator of one (https://www.facebook.com/groups/HopeforTroubledMinds – come check it out if you want to). What founder Tony Roberts and I try to do is offer a place for people with brain illnesses to learn from and share their experiences, with a faith component. Tony, who is much more in touch with the faith-based communities than I am, provides most of that part of the content. I facilitate by curating articles from around the internet on anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and general mental health. I post memes that relate to mental health or offer encouragement – or sometimes ones designed to bring humor to the subject. And I ask questions intended to spark discussion. I hope it helps.
And I also hope that other people have had better experiences than mine. I’d love to hear about them.
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